In the beginning, there was the gramophone. 78rpm records were the norm, poor in quality, and susceptible to damage. After World War Two, the climate was ripe for change. In 1948, the LP – a 12” vinyl record playing at 33.5 rpm – was invented in America. A year later, the 7” or 45 rpm single record was introduced. Nell Darby looks at how music was brought to the masses – and influenced a whole generation.

The Fifties saw a sea-change in lifestyle, especially for those in their teens. The term “teenager” was coined in the Fifties, and these boys and girls, determined to enjoy post-war life as much as possible, socialised with their friends, and developed new crazes. Music was a passion for them, and they helped popularise new forms of music, new artists, and thanks to them, the music industry modernised.

In Britain, the album chart started in 1952 – some time after America had introduced the idea – with all formats of record being considered. Both the NME and Record Mirror magazines published rival charts. Teenagers were able now to compare music, to see what was being released, and what was popular. They were becoming more aware of the differences between them and their elders, and wanted their own music, and their own space to listen to it in.

Their bedrooms became private areas where they could entertain their friends, listen to music, or get ready to go out. But what could they listen to their records on? One of the answers was the Dansette. It was a mono record player, with a built-in speaker. Its appeal lay partly in its size and portability – it was about the size of a small suitcase, complete with handle, that plugged into the mains. It was first produced around 1951, but was too expensive for most families, selling for 33 guineas.

Even a decade later, a popular model – appropriately enough called the Dansette Popular – was 11 guineas. Different models had different numbers of speeds (for example, the Popular was a 4 speed player), or legs to stand them up on. Names included the Junior, Major, Trixette, Argosy and Westminster. The price might have been prohibitive, but many bought them for family members for Christmas or birthdays – or bought them on credit.

The first record player produced by the Dansette’s inventors – the Plus-a-gram – utilised current technology by comprising a record turntable that plugged into the back of a family’s existing radio wireless. This survived for some years, but in the early Fifties, the company became formally known as Dansette, and started producing record players with autochangers that had originally been offered to them by a Birmingham company.

dansette2The Dansette immediately started making money, as retailers – from furniture shops to music shops – recognised its potential. The Dansette revolutionised the British music industry. Teenagers were able to listen to their music on a small, portable device, take it round to their friends’ houses, and put it away easily when they needed space to do other things.

Julie Lambert, writing on the Dansette website (www.dansettes.co.uk) suggests that many songwriters who were youngsters in the Fifties – such as Lennon and McCartney – owned Dansettes and learned about American musical influences through playing records on their portable machines.

The Dansette was also a piece of interior design. It was sold in a variety of colours so could suit any room, although the colours were mainly as bright as possible! My particular favourite is a cream model with pastel pink interior and trim. They were made from plywood and leatherette, and new designs were frequently added. Radios were added to them, and battery-operated models were designed. Their popularity survived until the late Sixties, when customers started wanting more modern equipment to keep up with rapidly improving technology.

In the Fifties and Sixties, the Dansette was an invaluable part of the fashion-conscious teenager’s bedroom, and it is testament to the original design that they have regularly had a resurgence. In the Eighties, I remember reading a copy of Just Seventeen that recommended finding a Dansette to add a Fifties feel to your bedroom – and I pleaded with my mother to be allowed to search for and buy one. Even today, despite their attractiveness, these vintage gems can still be picked up for a reasonable amount in second-hand shops and online. So what are you waiting for? Get an original bit of Fifties teen glamour in your lives!

6 Responses

  1. Jackie

    I love Dansettes! Only have 2 at the moment, a 1959 Junior and a 1963 (I think!) Bermuda. I love to play my rock n roll 78’s on them 🙂

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    What an interesting article. I’ve really been getting into record players recently, particular Dansette’s, so it’s nice to know the history behind them. I’m hoping to get myself one this year!

    Reply
  3. Mr Quartermain

    I’ve been lucky enough to have a dance around a Dansette, and have been keeping an eye out for one of my own. Nothing sounds quite like them.

    Reply
  4. Jenny Hammerton

    Hi – I’m one of the Shellac Sisters – we DJ on wind-up gramophones. Just wanted to let y’all know that if you are based in London Audio Gold in Crouch End has some fabulous dansettes and other record players…

    Reply
  5. Brian Scott-Smith

    Hi Julie, I was the consultant designer for Dansette from 1966 until they closed in 69. I knew Sam and wife Miriam very well, also uncles Louie an Sollie. (don’t know how to spell them). I have photographs on many of the models I designed, both record players, radios, car radios and a tape recorder. I also have a similar range for Perdio..
    I hope this message gets through to you as I have been unsuccessful with your website on Dansette.

    Brian Scott-Smith.

    Reply
  6. Andrew Rawson

    Hi Julie, just bought a dansette tempo which needs a better handle and a good clean , any ideas I live close by in Wessington Derbyshire

    Reply

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